I was able to take a lovely spring day drive up to the Conowingo Dam area of north eastern Maryland and visit Pat Dale, a prolific and energetic off-track Thoroughbred supporter, and owner of “Three Plain Bays” farm. Pat obtains, and in some cases, rescues, Thoroughbreds off the track that are not racing well, and brings them home to her lovely farm to be retrained and sold to non-racing homes.
She’s been located for about ten years at the Conowingo farm, hard by the Susequehanna River and just a few miles from Pennsylvania and Delaware. The location is a good one for someone who buys and sells; it’s within half a day’s ship from Charles Town, Pimlico, Baltimore, Penn National, Philadelphia Park (Parx), Monmouth and Delaware Park, and within a day of Virginia and New York.
Pat is well known at the track; many top level racing trainers know she will do right by the horses they have to cycle out of their training barns for lack of success (sometimes, even the best bred Thoroughbreds just don’t get the speed genes.) And increasingly, many eventers, hunter and jumper riders and dressage enthusiasts are finding the Three Plain Bays driveway, as well.
Pat’s reputation had steadily grown for offering nice horses suited to the jobs the buyers may want to do, and her Brazilian Wedding was a nice showcase of her talent and knack for selecting athletic horses. For those who don’t know, Brazilian Wedding was the winner of the inaugural Retired Racehorse Retraining Challenge, held in Maryland and Pennsylvania Horse World Expos this winter. She was directly off the track, sent by Pat to Eric Dierks, eventing trainer in N.C., and returned five weeks later to win the whole show based on judging and popular online voting. (With two-time Olympic medal winner Jimmy Wofford as one of the judges.)
A typical day for Pat might start early; she’s usually in full swing by 6:00 a.m. She has a few broodmares (all rescues) and young stock; the horses that are in the barn are cared for, turned out, readied for prospective buyers, or rehabbed. Linda, her barn assistant, takes the gator and fills water tubs in the various paddocks as well as turns horses out and brings them back to the barn.
Pat might take a 4-hour trip to Penn National, or Pimlico, or a local training center and return with two new horses in the trailer, and she’s on the phone calling an upper level event rider she knows, “I think I have a really nice prospect for you.” She arranges an appointment for the rider to see the horse; takes a call from a vet about a rehabbing mare, on stall rest with an ‘owie’; oversees the lunchtime feeding, and shows me the yearlings in a paddock by the driveway. The showing and vetting of sales horses are sandwiched in the day; it’s not atypical for Pat to run wide open for 12 to 14 hour days. And she thrives on it.
Pat was a horse crazy kid and was able to ride after school and on weekends at a local stable while a pre-teen. It was also a barn where horses were bought and sold frequently, and she learned early on the emotional cost of falling in love with a horse, then having it suddenly disappear from the barn one day, and see it a week later at a horse show being ridden by another little girl.
Rather than feel sorry for herself, she learned about how to find and train different types of horses, gravitated toward Thoroughbreds, and found herself involved in racing. Learning pedigrees, meeting other trainers, frequenting the track, and watching literally thousands of horses gallop and move, Pat found a niche for her skill. She’s got an eye for a horse, and hundreds of horses later, she’s built a pretty smart business moving Thoroughbreds into second careers.